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SLBM - Early Developments

By the mid-1950s the Soviet Union was making rapid strides in nuclear development. The United States Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program seemed to be facing problems in propulsion, guidance and reentry. When the armed services had been assigned separate roles in nuclear warfare (conforming to the 1948 "Key West Agreement"), the ICBM had been assigned to the Air Force, the Army was authorized to develop a 1500 nm intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), and the Navy had no defined ballistic missile role.

In the summer of 1955, a committee appointed by President Eisenhower and chaired by James R. Killian Jr. of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), issued a report on the U.S. defense posture. Along with a separate National Security Council paper, the Killian Report recommended that a l500 nm IRBM be considered for both land-basing and sea-basing. Eisenhower agreed and the Navy gained a role in the strategic missile arena. Four missile programs existed: the Air Force Atlas ICBM and its backup the Titan, the Air Force Thor (IRBM), and the Army JUPITER IRBM. The Navy asked to participate in the Air Force's program but the Air Force discouraged them from doing so; too many changes would be needed for a sea-based IRBM. But the Army agreed to the Navy's request to participate in Jupiter.

The Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) established, on 9 September 1955, a Joint Army-Navy Ballistic Missile Committee (JANBMC) to proceed with development and adoption of the liquid-propelled JUPITER IRBM for Navy use. The Army was to develop the missile and the Navy was to develop the ship launching system. The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) created, on 17 November 1955, a Special Projects Office (SPO). There was a "tug of war" between the Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics and the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance as to which would be the lead in this effort. The project was given to the Bureau of Ordnance, but the Bureau of Aeronautics was kept happy by the selection of their Rear Admiral (RADM) William F. "Red" Raborn to be the Director, SPO. He reported as Director on 5 December 1955.

It had, as its objective, a ship-based liquid propellant adoption of the Army's JUPITER (IRBM). RADM William F. "Red" Raborn and his SPO was to work with the Army, which had established a similar organization in Huntsville, Alabama, under Major General (MG) Bruce Medaris to develop JUPITER. He had as his chief technical officer, Dr. von Braun (who had led the development of the V-2 rocket for Nazi Germany during World War II).

SPO worked with the Army for the better part of a year. A cadre of SP officers was established at Huntsville, Alabama, to ensure that Navy requirements levied on the missile's characteristics were understood and were being met by the Army. The Army's initial surface-ship-launched version of the JUPITER was to be available for operational evaluation by January 1960. A submarine-launched version was to be ready for operational evaluation by January 1965. However, the Navy stated "on a long term basis, the Navy proposes a solid propellant development program pointed towards surface ships and eventual submarine use. The solid propellant would alleviate the serious hazards and difficult logistics, handling, and storage problems associated with liquids. The solid propellant is an integral part of a submarine program."

This concept has been attributed to have been derived from a World War II German invention described in some captured Nazi documents taken during the latter part of the war from a captured, high-level German headquarters. The proposal involved the installation of mortar tubes on the deck of a float and the firing of the mortars, while the tubes were still partly submerged, at a land-based target. The proposal had, in fact, been implemented and actual test firings had taken place with an encouraging amount of success.

In March 1956, the Department of Defense (DoD) approved the Navy's parallel solid-propellant program. Lockheed and Aerojet became involved.

Based on a February 1956 Lockheed proposal to study the feasibility of using solid propellants for a submarine-launched missile, the Strategic Systems Projects Office (SSPO) assigned LMSC the task of investigating the use of solid-propellant motors. In May 1956, Lockheed proposed a solid-propellant vehicle "JUPITER-S." In keeping with the state-of-the-art (SOTA) of 1956, it would be a very large missile which would deliver a 3000 lb warhead at a 1500 nm range using a very heavy guidance system. The LMSC concept was a first stage (FS) cluster of six motors, each 40 in. in diameter, surrounding a similar single motor of the same dimensions which served as the second stage (SS). The overall diameter of the missile was 120 in. and its weight was estimated to be approximately 160,000 Ib. Although shorter than the design for the sea-based liquid-fueled JUPITER, the solid system exceeded the liquid system in both diameter and weight.

Preliminary design studies based on this solution showed that a reasonable submarine configuration of 8500 tons could carry only four missiles.

During the summer of 1956, several study groups were sponsored by the Office of Naval Research. At a National Academy of Sciences summer study, Project NOBSKA (due to its meeting location, Nobska Point, Woods Hole, Massachusetts), Dr. Edward Teller from the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) asked a simple and vital question: "Why are you designing a 1965 weapon system with 1958 technology?" He predicted dramatic reductions in warhead weight for an acceptable yield and presented historical data to support those predictions.

Meanwhile, the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, under the direction of Dr. Charles Stark Draper, was developing a line of small, lightweight inertial components for missile-borne guidance systems.

Rumbeau and Henderson, two scientists working at Atlantic Research under the sponsorship of the Office of Naval Research, ignored the textbook on the amount of aluminum powder that was permitted in solid propellants. They postulated that the more aluminum powder added, the more the specific impulse would be increased. They put in a massive amount and marked improvement in impulse resulted. This indicated that it would be possible to build large solid-fuel motors for a 1200 to 1500 nm missile.

The potential of a warhead, whose weight and volume were a fraction of the JUPITER system, was sufficiently enticing to cause a preliminary missile design to be created by NOBSKA. The weight of an advanced all-inertial guidance system, resulted in a two-stage solid-propellant missile configuration in the 30,000 lb class.

Performance projections for this 30,000 lb class missile were provided to the Chief of Navy Operations (CNO), Admiral (ADM) Arleigh A. Burke, on 4 September 1956. ADM Burke requested that the AEC certify the warhead projections of Dr. Teller. In parallel, the SPO was asked to provide, in conjunction with contractor support from Lockheed and Aerojet, an assessment of the missile size and weight. The AEC responded with unconditional support on 27 September. RADM William F. "Red" Raborn presented to CNO the smaller Lockheed-conceived missile, calling it POLARIS. Thus, the name POLARIS for the proposed Navy ship-launched missile was originated officially in September 1956.

The events associated with POLARIS followed in a rapid succession. Lockheed submitted a revised design study of POLARIS and also recommended to the Navy that underwater (submarine) launching of POLARIS be considered as the immediate operational mode rather than later (after the ship-launched version). The SECNAV proposed the POLARIS to the SECDEF and requested deletion of missile launch capability from merchant ship hulls. During the course of this presentation to the SECDEF, RADM William F. "Red" Raborn stated that there would be "saved upwards to $50,000,000" with this concept versus the program presently embarked on. This helped sell the new program.

On 8 December 1956, the SECDEF authorized the Navy to proceed with POLARIS, terminated participation in the liquid JUPITER program, and dissolved the JANBMC. This was the official beginning of the POLARIS development program. The Navy's role of adopting an Army missile to a ship-launched system was changed to developing a completely new missile weapon system, including the submarine, along with all of the required support.

Developing all elements of the new weapon system concurrently on a schedule compatible with the new submarine presented a significant program management challenge to RADM William F. "Red" Raborn. It also presented a major technical challenge, calling for early definition and commitment of the various subsystems. RADM William F. "Red" Raborn had brought onboard as his Technical Director, Captain (CAPT) Grayson Merrill from the Bureau of Aeronautics, a fine technical manager. However, when the changeover from JUPITER to the solid-propellant motored missile came about, steps were initiated to bring CAPT Levering Smith onboard as an assistant technical director. He was an authority on solid propellants. Shortly thereafter CAPT Merrill decided to retire on his own volition. CAPT Levering Smith became Technical Director.

Functional subsystems of the new weapon system were established to clearly define interfaces which also defined the organizational structure of the SPO They remain so to this day.

Within the SPO (circa 1957), the technical branches included Launcher; Missile, Fire Control and Guidance, Ship Installation, Navigation, and Operations and Test. SPO's organization and supporting contractor team is basically the same today.

The schedule necessitated concurrent development of missile, guidance, navigation, fire control, and launcher. It called for sharply-defined interfaces, and continuing physical-functional interface coordination. Vitro Laboratories provided support to the Chief Engineer of the SPO and played an important role in weapon system interface coordination, system safety, and systems planning. Mr. John B. (Dick) Buescher became the Chief Engineer in the early days of SPO. The Chief Engineer for the entire Missile Weapon System exercised the ultimate authority and responsibility for the technical coordination of all weapon subsystems into a viable operable weapon system and included all engineering aspects from basic engineering development through operational support of deployed weapon systems.

The technical soundness and validity of engineering aspects rested solely on this position. It should be borne in mind that other similar systems within DoD use contractors as systems managers. SP, through the office of the Chief Engineer, functioned as its own systems manager, and still does today. Mr. Sol Berg provided important support to this function in the system coordination of electrical interfaces of fire control, navigation and missile, through POLARIS A3.

Sources and Resources

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